Morality is another means for transformative relationality. Relationships have a massive ability for transformation by means of influence. We all know this to be true one-way or another for our experience of it testifies to it. Our relationship or lack of relationship with our parents has profound impact not only on how we see the world, but on who we are as people, and what kind of good or bad childhood we had. For some, their relationships with their parents was transformative in a good way, for others it led them down darker paths. Relationships are transformative for better or for worse.
Within the idea of Transformative Relationality lies the concept of relational morality, which states this: that morality serves as a means and invitation to deeper intimacy and fellowship with God. Morality, like all good things, finds their existence in the essence of God. Morality is not a list of do’s and don’ts as if it was some task to be completed; instead morality is a means for experiential relationship. God invites us to partake in his own divine nature. It is when we accept this invitation to partake in the experiences of the divine attributes that we find ourselves being transformed by our relationship with God.
C.S Lewis says a similar thing in Mere Christianity,
“People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, ‘If you keep a lot of rules I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.’ I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And take your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.”
For Lewis rule-keeping isn’t the point, nor is it a task to be completed; instead for him it serves as a means to an end rather than being an end in and of itself.
Furthermore when I speak of morality I am referring too the objective trans-cultural morality that exists outside of our interpretations of morality and finds its existence in the unchanging nature of love; or to put it another way it is preexistent in the character and essence of a preexistent God. All systems of Morality found in various cultures are therefore only interpretations of this Objective Morality. This interpretation of morality may change from culture to culture but the essence itself is unchanging.
Morality is inherently relational; to do evil to God or your neighbor is to reject relationship with them. In contrast, to do good to God and neighbor is an acceptance of some sort of relationship with those persons. There are, however, different levels of relationship. It does not follow that someone who does good to another person is married to that person. In the same way, merely being moral does not mean you are in a martial covenant with God. You must deliberately choose to marry your spouse, and you must deliberately choose to marry God (that is too follow Jesus).
But I digress from my main point. For too long has Western Theology seen morality as a task rather than a means to relationship. I must be gentle in this rebuke, as westerners (myself included) are culturally Task-Orientated, rather than culturally Relationship-Orientated. In a sense it is natural for us to view morality from this point of view due to our own culture, and we do not choose the culture we are born into. But we certainly can choose to influence our culture for the better. For those who may not be familiar with the differences between Task and Relationship orientated culture I will shortly explain.
The focus in Task-orientated cultures is primarily about achieving one’s goals through completing tasks. Whereas in relationship-orientated cultures the community to which one belongs is an essential part of the persons identity and their goals are completed through relationships, with the emphasis being on relationship itself.
Outside of the western world most cultures (including those of the Biblical Authors) are relationship orientated. The way we view the Christian faith in the Modern West is unique apart from the world of the biblical authors, the early Christians, and much of the non-western modern world in many regards. One of the differences being, they were from a relationship-orientated culture rather than a western task oriented culture. These are two Cultural differences through which people view the world, some see it through the eyes of Task and some through the eyes of Relationship.
With this in mind, it is my proposal that we should see morality as another means to relationship rather than as a task or goal to be completed. To finish off my essay I will suggest a reorientation to how we read some of the biblical texts. Here I will be completely speculating, as currently I am unaware of any evidence to give credence, let alone proof to a rereading of this, 1 John, in such a way, as I will propose. That being stated, I want to suggest that perhaps 1 John 5:3 should be read not as a goal orientated task but as a text primarily concerned with how we ourselves act relationally towards God. In other words we read the text through the lens of relational morality. 1 John 5:3 says, “For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments.” How does the meaning of this verse change when viewed relationally rather than from a task prospective? And lastly I think this quote from Lewis would agree.
C.S. Lewis Quote:
“I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Every one there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes. But this is near the stage where the road passes over the rim of our world. No one’s eyes can see very far beyond that: lots of people’s eyes can see further than mine.”